By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 1, 2012
LANSING — Despite heavy rain and strong winds, almost 100 students from across the state came to Lansing on Friday to protest funding cuts to higher education and to advocate for students' rights.
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The rally — held by the Student Association of Michigan, a collaborative organization of student governments at universities in the state — was close to being cancelled due to a heavy thunderstorm that persisted throughout the morning and afternoon. However, the storm ceased just minutes before the students began their march from the Lansing Center to the steps of the capitol building.
SAM President Jay Gage, a student at Lake Superior State University, met with state senators and representatives on Thursday, before speaking at the rally on Friday.
“We desperately need reinvestment in higher education,” Gage said. “If we are going to have a good educational sector, then we fund it.”
Gage lauded higher education in the state and called Michigan’s institutes of higher learning “the most prestigious universities in the world,” particularly praising the University of Michigan.
During the 90-minute rally, the students, waving colorful flags with university logos, listened to speeches from several speakers while occasionally interrupting with loud chants and vuvuzelas.
Tyler Helsel, public relations director for SAM and a LSSU student, said he was hoping upwards of 500 students would participate in the rally, but said the weather discouraged students from attending.
Earlier in the week, Helsel said 150 people from LSSU were planning to attend the conference, but changed their minds upon hearing the weather report. Regardless, Helsel said he was pleased with the students who did come.
“I still think that it was a good event,” Helsel said. “I think that the people that were here were really enthused.”
The weather also deterred University students from making the trip to Lansing, and only a handful of students attended. LSA junior Sean Walser, chair of the Central Student Government’s External Relations Commission, helped plan this year's rally and said CSG had planned on taking a bus until student support waned as a result of the weather forecast.
“A lot of people were looking at the weather this week and realizing that was going to be cold and rainy,” Walser said. “We didn't want to spend the money on it if it wasn't going to be used.”
LSA junior Aditya Sathi, the vice speaker of CSG, was among University students in attendance at the rally, and discussed medical amnesty and the important of student advocacy.
In particular, Sathi addressed House Bill 4393, which would amend a previous law to effectively implement medical amnesty on a state-wide level. The bill easily passed the Michigan House of Representatives, but has yet to be voted on by the senate.
“We have the opportunity to save lives here, and why, why is it that the state senate has not voted on this bill yet?” Sathi said. “Why is it that it hasn't gone on to the governor's desk?”
Another speaker at the event was David Knezek, president of the University of Michigan-Dearborn Student Government. Knezek is graduating this semester and running for state representative as a Democrat.
“For me, higher education personally is the biggest issue and I think it ties in very intimately to the economy and Michigan's well-being,” Knezek said.
Eli Karttunen, treasurer of the Undergraduate Student Government at Michigan Technological University, said he drove 10 hours from Michigan Tech in Houghton, Michigan to Lansing to stand out in the blustery weather.
“It’s so important to be here and to actually show state legislators that students matter,” Karttunen said. “It is 30 to 40 degrees out here, it’s raining, it’s cold — it’s awesome though.”
While attendance may have been lower than expected for the SAM rally, Gage said the organization has been growing, noting that the University's recent affiliation with SAM has been mutually beneficial.
“That not only helps us as an association get stronger, but it helps U of M elevate their student voices to the state-wide level,” Gage said. “It's definitely a great partnership that I hope only gets stronger.”